Call of Duty: Black Ops 4s Blackout mode is Treyarchs taking on the monstrous popular battle Royal genre. It may seem strange that Activision is willing to let Treyarch change its flagship formula so much, but Activision has always been flexible with Treyarch so that they can experiment with zombies and nonlinear campaigns for years. Does it work for Black Ops 4? We are looking into early access to PC beta starting on Friday, but for now, here's our impression of the PS4 exclusive beta period.
Battle Royale modes owe much to the novel with the same name: A large group, sometimes made up of hundreds of players, loosens an island, the task of killing each other until only one player or team remains standing. In order to keep players from camping the whole match, a deadly gift circle map encloses, shrinks until there is hardly any room left and a winner is determined. Battle Royale games also lure players around the map with cash registers that promise more powerful weapons and items.
If you hoped Blackout would differ from its basic formula, it does not mean that. This is a combat royal mode. At the very least Fortnite managed to break apart by repurposing singleplayer game's unique building system, but Blackout plays it a little safer. Players will still find skydiving on the map, move from house to house looking for weapons and supplies, find a safe place and wait for the circle to shrink before repositioning. Knowledgeable players are more likely to spend time-consuming enmity.
Blackout lacks the personality of games like Fortnite or Radical Heights, but a battle royal struggle needs more than personality to survive, as Radical Heights proved earlier this year. The random object of spells that can determine how long you survive a match is still not so funny. As fun as it may be to scavenge, to find better loot the longer you play, it's still not fun to spike an unsuspecting player with carefully placed shot from the bolt's action gun, the only decent gun you found just for him to spin around and eliminate yourself in a wild spray from his assault rifle.
Players who do not like match royal games, are unlikely to find anything in Black Ops 4 to change. Blackout also has some big mistakes: we experienced disconnections, were removed from bouts after each match, or were unable to retain our character selection, but compared to a game like PUBG, we experienced relatively little teams or performance hiccups. Treyarch is clearly doing its best to release a game of the technical quality of its previous titles, and while Black Ops 4 is not there yet, it's good on its way.
Old and New
Where Treyarch tries to distinguish his battle royal mode from the others is with the addition of many smaller items. Players can find regular Call of Duty weapons, but also find and equip benefits to increase survival, as well as things like a grip hook, a basketball and a rage.
Zombies can be placed across the map, protecting a good gun. Unfortunately, the zombies are so aggressive that players must shoot them, potentially alerting nearby competitors to their presence. This system is a nice twist on the risk reward system with airdrops, but it still does not interfere with the flow of the game in any significant way. We played more games where everyone completely avoided the zombies.
Although it looks like other combat royal modes, Blackout is an important diversion for Call of Duty. Instead of the constant, always awake race and gun pacing that defines a traditional Call of Duty game, Blackout provides a slower, more contemplative experience. The quiet excitement found in combat royal modes is quite different from a traditional Call of Duty experience, and Blackout can turn out to be a great change for music.
Black Ops 4 is a strange experiment as the first multiplayer-only Call of Duty, and Blackout is the only major addition to Call of Duty since Zombies, but if it succeeds, it's unclear. For the big fans of the game, the changes may not be significant enough to lure them away from the competition, but once the bugs have been prepared, the core looks as fun as all other battles out there right now.
The picture becomes clearer when we can see how the beta performs on PC, how well the interface works with a mouse and keyboard and how the weapon senses analogously sticks. We will try it out this weekend.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 releases October 1